English fuzz-punkers Male Bonding signed with Sub Pop prior to their 2009 debut, Nothing Hurts, and since then, the four-piece have been trying their hardest to recapture some of the highest moments that the big name label has produced. While their early recordings reveled in the lo-fi world that seemed like a necessity for the band’s idols (who often times couldn’t afford anything else), this year’s Endless Now finds the band more comfortable with the realities of their status. While their songs still recall some of the blander Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, or even, to a skewed degree, the instrumentals of Nirvana, there’s a newfound element of clarity in the mix. While that certainly de-clutters the songs found on Male Bonding’s new disc, it doesn’t boost the hit-or-miss hooks and humdrum structures.
None of this aims to suggest that Endless Now is bad. Instead, despite the advancements in control over their craft, Male Bonding are working from a place of rehashing the work of all-too-familiar bands — bands that did exactly what Male Bonding are trying to do and did it so memorably that hundreds (if not thousands) of other bands are doing the same thing. Male Bonding’s nostalgic genre-aping not only puts their music in competition with itself, but also with other bands in the same trend — and the bands that inspired the trend in the first place. Which is to say that Endless Now finds itself in a difficult spot, one where their blandly likable college rock retreads just don’t seem to cut the mustard they themselves set out.
“Tame the Sun” leads things off, encompassing all of the ups and downs that the rest of the album holds. Vocalist John Arthur Webb’s laconic delivery, the jolting guitar riffs, and the shuddering drums all perfectly recall Dinosaur Jr.’s heyday, but there’s no single powerful moment or memorable chorus to latch onto. “Carrying” follows, sounding remarkably like a track off of Wavves’ King of the Beach but un-fuzzed, a moment where the new regular-fi sound isn’t doing them any favors. The track is nice, but not particularly memorable, the guitars cresting and crashing swiftly.
The punchy “Seems to Notice” gets back to Dino territory, or maybe a crunchier Smoking Popes, big soaring vocals blurred, obscured just slightly, riding a wave of smoky guitar. The near-monotone vocals of “Bones” drain the life out of the rollicking, head-first instrumental intro. It’s hard to understand why the fuzz poppers would be interested in putting together a six-and-a-half-minute track, and the languid results can’t be the answer they were looking for.
About halfway through the album, songs begin to bleed together, and it’s difficult to pick out any track from the others. There’s not enough real dynamic change in the disc, no single song or chorus that breaks away from a mediocre pack. A few things do manage to stand out: The sunny, crystalline “Before It’s Gone” sounds like a dispassionate No Age, Webb moaning that he is “feeling so much older” than he used to, while the clipping, sprawling riff of “What’s That Scene” may be the single most exciting and memorable sound on the disc.
The flow of tracks leads, however, one by one to the end of the album, all without delivering a truly outstanding, cathartic moment, leaving behind a half-sated feeling. If this were somewhere you were going for dinner, you’d be left thinking something along the lines of “Yeah, that was pretty good, I guess, but… I’m still pretty hungry.”
Essential Tracks: What’s the Scene, Seems to Notice